The 2,400-pound bronze piece depicts Harriet Tubman leading a young girl out of slavery. The statue arrived on Sunday, Sept. 19. Titled “Harriet Tubman: Journey to Freedom,” the piece was originally commissioned for a private building in Dallas, Texas, with Franklin, N.C., native Jada Bryson modeling Tubman as Wofford worked. When photos of the sculpture went viral, Wofford made a copy so that more people could experience the piece. It’s spent the last year touring the country, and its stop in Sylva will extend through Dec. 20 thanks to fundraising and organizational efforts from the NAACP.
Funding for the statue’s stay in Sylva came from the Dogwood Health Trust, with the Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center acting as the 501(c)3 agency to handle the money — the Jackson NAACP is a 501(c)4, so not directly eligible under the grant terms. The town provided the sculpture’s location, installation and security, with marketing and publicity support from the town, the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.
A dedication for the statue was held on Sunday, Sept. 26, and drew more than 350 people to Bridge Park. Liberty Baptist Church provided music, ministry and fellowship for the event.
The NAACP hopes to use Tubman’s story as a launching pad to spotlight local African American history and heroes. Through a partnership with Western Carolina University, a self-guided African American Historical Tour of five key sites in Western North Carolina will soon be available, extending through December 2023. WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center completed extensive research for the tour in consultation with the WCU Department of Intercultural Affairs and branch elders at the Jackson NAACP. The Bardo Arts Center developed QR technology for the tour and will collaborate with the Jackson NAACP on learning activities for students in the three-county area of Jackson, Macon and Swain counties. In addition to aiding with research efforts, Intercultural Affairs has engaged college students and student organizations in related service learning.